as published in the South London Press
It’s not uncommon to refer to the second-row of a rugby union team as the engine room.
The props provide the stability, the ballast; the hooker, as the name implies, hooks the ball back, while the two locks deliver the power, working as pistons to drive the scrum forward.
Fitting then, perhaps, that two of Blackheath’s first choice second-row forwards hold engineering degrees.
Devin Montgomery combined college with developing his rugby on the veldt in his native South Africa, while Gregor Gillanders completed his education via the Open University – once described as the hardest method of gaining a degree created by man.
‘I used to marvel at people who worked a nine-to-five and then spent all their free time studying,’ said Gregor. ‘But being a rugby player made it easier. You have a lot of free time and it filled it quite well.’
It was during his six years as a full time professional with Championship side Bedford Blues that Gregor undertook his course.
Originally from Dundee, at the age of seven his family moved to Leicestershire where he took up rugby with local club Market Harborough RUFC (Kibworth RFC until 2006), before graduating to Leicester academy.
An exhibition match against Argentina for the First XV was the highlight of his stay with the Tigers, but it was at Bedford where he spent the bulk of his career to date, playing in 165 Championship matches, including a Final, as well as a B&I Cup Final.
He also featured in the England U20 side (Gregor qualifies for both England and Scotland) that lost to a strong New Zealand team in the 2008 Junior World Cup Final, but it was after leaving Bedford and joining London Scottish in 2014 that his career took a different turn.
‘I’ve always been conscious of a life after rugby,’ continued the 27-year old who, having undergone two knee reconstructions, knows how fragile the career as a professional sportsman can be. ‘I decided the time was right to go semi-pro. There were a number of options, but Mike Friday’s decision to return to Blackheath to combine a role there with his position with the USA sevens squad made up my mind for me. I’ve a lot of admiration for Mike’s coaching skills.’
And what an impact Gregor has made since arriving at Rectory Field. Although the vast majority of his Championship appearances were made in the back-row, at 6’ 4” and over 17st he has the ideal physique for a lock-forward.
Ever-present in Blackheath’s twelve league matches to date, he’s proved a powerful scrummager as well as an exceptional line-out performer, faultless on his own throw and frequently snaffling opposition ball, often when the Club’s goal-line has been under threat. He also has an eye for a gap in the defensive line, as demonstrated last Saturday at Hull Ionians when he dramatically broke through to score the try that gave Blackheath their 26-20 victory in the very last play of the game.
Tomorrow the Club will look to continue building on their positive start to the 2015-16 campaign, which sees them up to third place in National League One, as they play host to Fylde. By their usual standards the Lancastrians have had a mixed opening to their season with just five wins so far, and with four red cards they look to have some disciplinary problems, although that’s not something that fazes Gregor.
‘We’ll leave that to the coaches to analyse. Our role is to stick to our game plan, work to our systems and patterns and not get distracted or over-complicate things. That said, if they do want to get physical we won’t take a step back!’
Away from the physicality of the game of rugby union, Gregor, who still prefers to reside in the East Midlands, appears very content with the prospect of combining playing at a high level with a nine-to-five career, as he prepares to embark on a new job as a structural engineer near London Bridge.
It all means, however, that as with those people he used to admire while completing his OU course, downtime is limited and very precious.
‘Any free time is spent with my girlfriend (Danielle) or grabbing the odd game of golf with my dad,’ he said. ‘But, in the end, I’m very fortunate that my hobby is also my job and I intend to make the most of it while I can.’